THE BRITISH government’s plans to make sex and relationship education (SRE) compulsory for all pupils in England has been met with mixed response from parents, with the curriculum’s focus on technology being praised and its relative ambiguity being criticised.
Education secretary Justine Greening announced on March 1 that relationship education will be added to the curriculum for students from the age of four, with sexual education being taught in secondary schools as well, coming into effect in September 2019.
While sex education is already compulsory in council-run schools, which represent around a third of all students, the new changes will make it required teaching in academies and free schools as well. Parents will retain the option of withdrawing their children from the classes.
Bhavan Desai, a psychologist and mother from London, said that although the parents she’s spoken to are generally in favour of the changes, she expects others will take issue with relationship education being taught at such a young age.
She told Eastern Eye: “In principle, it’s a good idea. I can see the rationale behind it, but I just don’t think it’s going to work because a lot of parents are uncomfortable equipping their children with so much information at such a young age. Not every child is the same, and (implementing the changes) is going to be difficult.”
The current curriculum for SRE was developed in 2000, prompting Greening to refer to it as “increasingly outdated” and calling for a refresh.
Although the government has yet to release a comprehensive outline, new topics will include sexual harassment, online pornography, sexting (cyber sex) and online safety. A “full public consultation” will be held later this year.
Another parent who spoke to Eastern Eye, and wished to remain anonymous, said that while he sees the inclusion of technology-related issues in the curriculum as critical, he’s concerned with what his daughter will be taught during relationship education.
“It’s all quite vague,” he said. “What comes under healthy relationships and what is an unhealthy relationship?
“If there are children coming from a broken home or being abused, they may think that’s normal, so I can see them benefiting from learning it’s not. But personally, I’m trying to protect my kids from learning about that.”
Abdul Mukit, a father of two, said he’s generally in favour of SRE being made compulsory, but he would like to see a “very light touch” in primary school.
“I think that children should enjoy being children for as long as possible, but I understand that from seven or eight they could benefit from relationship education, not necessarily sex education,” he said. “I’d like to see a focus on what constitutes a violent relationship or a safe relationship.”
“children should enjoy being children for as long as possible”
Desai criticised the lack of communication between schools and parents in regards to sex education, claiming that when her son, who is now 13, started the programme in year six she was kept in the dark about what he was learning despite showing enthusiasm for promoting the process at home.
“I don’t recall having any information on the subject at all, aside from when they were going to teach it,” she said.
“I think more parents would be open to the idea (if information was shared). Every parent wants what’s best for their children and if you equip parents with information that is on par with what the children are going to be taught at school, you can actually do a really good job as a team.
“Parents need to know what is going on in the cyber world, because they often don’t have a clue. They don’t know what Instagram is, they don’t know what Snapchat is… and when parents don’t know something they’re often very fearful of it. They could be very harsh on their child without understanding what is behind it. They’re only looking at the consequences, but sometimes it’s a bit late because the damage is already done emotionally.”
“Parents need to know what is going on in the cyber world”
Charity groups and other organisations have responded as well.
A spokesperson for Girlguiding said: “Young members from across the country have asked for a school curriculum that includes sexual consent, LGBTQ, tacking violence against women and girls, online safety and healthy relationships.
“We have shared our personal and difficult experiences of sexual harassment at school and time and time again we have pointed to the hard evidence of the urgent need for compulsory SRE.”
Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield said she was “delighted” by the announcement that SRE would be made compulsory and added: “Children are asking for lessons to help them prepare for life and protect them from exploitation and abuse. The many cases that have made disturbing headlines in recent years make preparing them for the adult world even more urgent.”